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Pair of Painted
Earthenware Zhenmushou Tomb Guardians

Heights: 62.9 cm. (24 3/4 in.)
& 59.5 cm. (23 3/8 in.)

Tang dynasty
8th century

The two hybrid creatures, zhenmushou tomb guardian creatures, alternately qitou, are each seated upright, full frontal, rigid, and menacing. Supported on stiff frontal legs locked at the knees, one with bovine hooves, the other with claws, each planted on a horseshoe-shaped plinth. The shoulders are high, wide and squared, their chests puffed up and thrust forward, their svelte lower bodies resting on haunches and each with a ridge of spikes lining the spine. Their huge heads are planted on neckless bodies, one with roughly feline characteristics, the other more human in nature, the first with a single horn flanked by two smaller horns rising from the head and massive brows shading the sunken eyes while its wide mouth opens to reveal huge teeth. Sharply pointed angular ears flank the head. The other is equipped with a single upright horn, leaf-like ears stretching horizontally from the sides of the head, the eyes deeply sunken, with a pig-like snout and mouth pulled into a scowl. The buff-colored earthenware retains remnants of the original pigment, mainly the green still intact.

Tomb protecting agents were a necessity to secure graves against unwanted comings and goings. The physical appearance of animal or human-like members of such an entourage changed with time and locale but always present with a sense of steadfast purpose and to a greater or lesser degree with fearsome intention. Closely related guardian figures in materials, construction, and style have been recovered from Tang-period tombs in Henan province, the most likely date and provenance of the present pair. Among published examples, one in a Beijing collection has many features in common with the lion-headed guardian (fig.1). Two further published examples are each related in specific ways to the more human-faced creature, both excavated in Gongyi, Henan province (figs. 1-3). Two is the dominant magic number for such figures, the pairs of beings providing, it was hoped, sufficient protection, although further individuals could be added to the retinue, a bow to safety in numbers.

Fig. 1: Zhenmushou earthenware figure, h. 50.0 cm., Tang dynasty, 8th century, Tongguzhai collection, Beijing, after Wang Qinglu, Zhonggu minzang wenwu jianshang congshu: Taoyung duoying, Beijing, 2006, fig. 183.

Fig. 2: Zhenmushou earthenware figure, h. 41.5 cm., Tang dynasty, 8th century, excavated from a tomb in Gongyi, Henan province, Zhengzhou Cultural Relics Archaeological Research Institute, after Zhongguo guda zhenmu shenwu, Beijing, 2004, no. 90.

Fig. 3: Zhenmushou earthenware figure, h. 62.2 cm., Tang dynasty, 8th century, excavated from the site of a power plant, Gongyi, Henan province, Zhengzhou Cultural Relics Archaeological Research Institute, after Zhongguo guda zhenmu shenwu, Beijing, 2004, no. 184.


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